A Question for the Ages

My kids are weird. Not weird in a bad way, necessarily, just a funny, quirky, out-of-the-ordinary way.

And I find it quite charming most of the time.

They make me think about things I’ve never thought about before. And sometimes they ask me questions that literally stump me.

And yes, those questions usually involve math.

But this morning, Boy #2 asked me a question that had to do with MY world, MY subject — and it STILL stumped me!

Here was his question:

“Mom, what’s your favorite compound word?”

Okay, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to have a favorite compound word. Am I the only one that’s favoriteless in this category?

Trying to stall while I thought of some brilliant reply, I asked Boy #2 what his favorite compound word is.

And yes, he has one. Actually, he has two.

  1. cupcake
  2. eyeball

Now, I have no idea what cupcake and eyeball have to do with each other, or why cupcake rated above eyeball (except that it tastes much better), but I was impressed that he had actually given this literary question some serious thought.

However, I have to admit that I could not come up with my favorite upon request. In fact, I couldn’t even really think of many compound words since I was under so much pressure. So I told him I’d have to think about it and get back to him.

So I have. And here’s my reply to him (Feel free to read along as well).

It’s much easier for me to come up with my least favorite compound words, so I’m going to start with a few humdingers (ooh, that’s a compound word too):

  • bathroom — This word isn’t necessarily ugly, more like misleading. I don’t know about you, but I RARELY get to take a bath in my bathroom. This is not what happens in there. The same goes for “restroom” — even though the boys like to go and hang out for a while in there, to me it’s not where I go to rest. Instead of “bathroom” or “restroom,” a more accurate compound word might be “pooproom” or “stinkroom,” maybe even “peeonthetoiletseatroom” (although that might be a bit hard for kids to spell).
  • toenail — Although this compound word has kind of a harsh sound to it (the hard “t” and “n”), it’s more the image that pops in my head when I hear it that makes me detest it. Even though some people have pretty pedicured toenails, this is not the picture that automatically comes to me. Instead, it’s ugly ragged toenails, and particularly toenail fungus, that I associate with the word. I blame those late-night toenail fungicide commercials. Nasty.
  • cowlick — I was blessed with cowlicks. Plural. When I was little, I had a slight fear that a cow would come and lick my head. Although maybe that would’ve tamed my unruly locks. What a dumb word.
  • armpit — There’s really nothing pleasant about an armpit, is there? For men, it’s hairy and stinky. For tweens, it’s just stinky. And for us ladies, if you shave or wax (which I hope to God you do), there’s always that five o’clock shadow you can’t quite make go away. And on a personal note, I’ve had to use my husband’s “manly” deodorant all week because he broke MY “womanly” deodorant last week (yes, when he was using it) and I keep forgetting to buy new. So right now my armpits smell like a sporty, musky man. And I’m sure that is more than you ever wanted to know about my armpits.
  • earwig — Okay, I threw up a little bit just typing this worm. I never want to see one of these icky bugs. Honestly, does it live in the ear, or why is it called the earwig? The thought of this bug with long pincers living in my ear is enough to put me over the edge. I believe I would rather experience a tapeworm (another lovely compound word) than an earwig. *shudder*
  • shuttlecock — This word is precisely the reason that badminton will never be taken seriously in the sporting world.

And now for some compound words that don’t make me want to dump English and become fluent in Swahili:

  • dishwasher — I love this word not only for its sibilance (all those “sh” sounds) but also for what it represents. Whether in human or appliance form matters not. God bless the dishwasher.
  • flapjack — Why has pancake, flapjack’s more popular yet more boring brother, taken over our vernacular? Flapjack is such a lively and energetic word, and pancake is as dull as, well, a cake pan.
  • inkwell — This is so sophisticated-sounding. “Pardon me, but may I borrow your inkwell?” Maybe part of it’s because I have a secret wish to replace all of the ball-point pens in our house with fountain pens. With huge, white feathers. Don’t you think that would make even the mundanes of life more enjoyable? You could be writing a check to the city sanitation department and you’d still feel like John Hancock.
  • chickpea — Although I’ve never tried a chickpea, the name makes me want to. It sounds like something only cool people would eat.
  • housecoat — This word just makes me smile. I want to start a movement to bring the housecoat back (not, however, to be confused with a muumuu).

Other compound words I’m going to start weaving into my daily conversations:

  • fiddlesticks
  • claptrap
  • hoodwink
  • muckrake
  • nitwit

Ah, fiddlesticks, girl! Don’t try to hoodwink me with your claptrap! I can tell you’re trying to muckrake me. What do you take me for, a nitwit?

So what’s your favorite compound word?

Eyeball cupcake photo by Eric Staudenmaier
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